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Email Strategy

Should You Respond To Every Email?

So much communication, so little time. The result: Email guilt. But should we really feel bad about not responding to every email?


Inbox zero is no longer a goal, it’s a mirage. Instead, we have email guilt – otherwise known as the condition of having so much email you couldn’t possibly respond to it all, but you still feel like you should. Or should you? That’s the question we are posing here today: “Should you respond to every email?”

Seth Godin /// Author, Blogger, Marketing Guru

“No, you shouldn’t. But many people do, because there doesn’t seem to be a great alternative. It’s asymmetrical, and productivity loses to politeness.”

Scott Belsky /// CEO, Behance

“No, but I still try. I don’t respond to emails with “FYI” in the subject line, unless I have something valuable to add. But the majority of other emails from people – quick questions, unsolicited inquiries, or articles from friends – deserve a response. I try to be quick, replying with 3-5 words when possible. My thinking: email may drive us crazy, but it is still a form of communication with people, and communication helps build relationships.”

Simon Sinek /// Leadership Expert & Author, “Start With Why”

“Emails are like rabbits, they reproduce at an exorbitant rate. The more you send, the more you get. So many people complain about all the emails they get, my question is, how many emails do you send?Sending one email to 5 people could produce 5 emails back. Overwhelmed by all the emails I would get, I decided to stop sending as many. Now, when I have something to ask or tell someone, I pick up the phone and call them. Not only has it significantly reduced the number of emails I get, but it actually saves me time also. A five minute call replaces the time it takes to read and reply to the original email and read and reply to their reply… or replies. And I no longer spend 20+ minutes crafting the perfect email – no need to.

The number of emails I get has dropped so dramatically, in fact, that I no longer feel I need to sleep next to my phone or check my emails when I wake up in the morning – something I used to do even before I brushed my teeth or showered. We don’t need to figure out a strategy on how to deal with all our emails if we are able to significantly reduce the number that come in in the first place… and the only way to do that is to start using the phone again.”

What Do You Think?

What’s your take? Should you respond to every email?

Jocelyn K. Glei

A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with how to make great creative work in the Age of Distraction. Her latest book is Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction, and Get Real Work Done. Her previous works include the 99U’s own bestselling book series: Manage Your Day-to-Day, Maximize Your Potential, and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.

Comments (67)
  • jkglei

    I think that’s a good question, but still I think it’s incumbent on the sender to either: (1) Make it relatively simple to reply to the email via email, or (2) To clarify that no response is needed. For the latter in the Behance office, we use FYI to indicate no response needed, which dispenses with the need for a “Thanks!” or “I got it” email.

  • Amy Santee

    I LOVE the idea of calling someone back to reply to an email rather than replying with… an email. Genius! 

  • Mark McGuinness

    Thanks! I got it! 😉

  • Marcus

    I always try to send less email and try to talk to people instead. Unfortunately more and more often people try to protect themselves and request an email instead of trusting the verbal information or confirmation.

    I have set up a rule in my email client to move all emails I receive in “cc” to a specific folder. I review this folder 3 times a week and mostly I am ok as people use the “cc” option only to send me information and do not expect a reply. Sometimes people don’t use it this way and add a request to me or any recipient at the end of their email. In these cases I call first to see if a reply is still needed.

  • Scott Belsky

    One reason I try to respond to unsolicited emails: Acknowledgement is a
    powerful force for good.

  • Khalid Mokhtarzada

    There’s emails from August 12th that I haven’t replied, and it feels amazing. Watch out, I’m feeling dangerous!

  • dissertations

    cool post! like your blog)))

  • Internet Geeks

    I am some what like Simon. I prefer to talk then draft a perfect email.

  • KJ

    Keeping up with email cam make me sometimes feel like I’m playing a really sick game of Whac-A-Mole.

  • clare

    I always try to avoid email and go and speak to people instead, then if anything needs to be confirmed, that’s what goes in the email ie: .just to confirm our conversation…’ That way you cover yourself and avoid unnecessary emails back and forth.

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  • Romey Ritter

    depends on what you are trying to build and who you are building with…

  • Andrew Wargo IV (360 Minutes)

    I absolutely do not advocate answering every email by email. Some go in the trash, some get delegated, many get answered by a phone call or in person, and some get answered by email if I can’t get in touch otherwise (travel, vacation, meetings, etc.) or I need documentation of the conversation for due diligence. Any time I do send an original email or reply, I apply draconian trimming to the recipient list, and actually differentiate between actionees and info-recipients.

    A zero-length inbox is like zero debt. A short-lived, albeit rewarding, phenomenon. There’s always some recurrent bill that cycles back around, and there will always be more messages. The question is do they serve you, or you them. I discuss one method for handling this at http://andrewwargo.com/blog/ef

    Take care, and enjoy life,

    Andrew

  • essay help

    very interesting post! i liked it! thanksa  lot for sharing!

  • Brice Lin

    Interesting post! My inbox must always be zero by the end of the day. Although as a student, I don’t get as many as business emails, I always make sure to respond to each email that is sent specifically to me. I know I’d want somebody else to do the same for me :]

  • misterparker

    I respond to few, and mainly only to those requiring a response, and send fewer, yet still get so many.

    I have recently been employing a power list of gmail filters to organize all my automated account emails and/or notifications, so that getting 10 emails doesn’t give me the burden of 100 emails (when accompanied by all the webapp/account/notification emails)

  • custom essays

    I get a lot more communicated in less time and we can share ideas, sort
    them, and act on them more spontaneously and efficiently in a verbal
    conversation than is possible in an email conversation.

  • ohwee

    not necessary… i respond if required and direct my  email to the person in charge… this is to keep an impression that when i sent an email, it means that it’s important and will answer their queries or add value to the discussion.

  • Baiju Solanki

    I only respond if it is just about one response. If it is likely to lead to another question and thus lead to a conversation, i will call them. Too many times email is use like a instant messenger. when it should be use more like traditional post

  • Craylebj

    If an email is sent TO me, I will respond, often though I’m one of a dozen who were cc’d on something. I don’t worry about responding out of politeness though, if they were polite and needed a response they should call me, if I can get your email, I can take your phone call. IM is a different story, I will always respond to those, as quickly as possible. Here’s the deal email = phone call, IM = text. I just don’t have time to try to make every person that emails me feel special. FYI’s don’t receive a “got it, thanks!” and mass notices don’t get a response unless I have something to add. I read every email, but I don’t respond, if you want to know if I’ve read it, request a read receipt.

  • Gregg Peter Farah

    the idea that phone use is a lost art reflects the influx of new technology…but next to a face-to-face it helps reduce the majority of miscommunication…and inbox proliferation

  • Laurence Gillian

    What a load of waffle. Yawn.

  • Mystikan

    I only respond to emails if I have something useful to contribute. I have an autoresponder set up on my email server that thanks the sender for their email and advises that while I read all my emails I might not reply. I don’t reply to forwards or CCs at all, nor do I expect anyone else to respond to my CCs and forwards. I also may take a while, often a few days, to respond if I need to consider my reply, since I might want to edit and evaluate my response before sending it, especially if the subject matter is highly emotive. And no, I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about it.

  • Jim

    Not all like to call.

  • RGM

    In most of the companies the heads of the different departments comunicate all the topics by the emails and it is nowadays unsusteineable. Since we are talking about medium and big companies, the comunication has to be much more effcient.

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